Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, with postscript by Abigail Adams, 20 June 1815

From John Adams, with postscript by Abigail Adams

Quincy June 20. 1815

Dear Sir

The fit of recollection came upon both of Us, So nearly at the same time that I may, Sometime or other, begin to think there is Some thing in Priestleys and Hartleys vibrations. The day before Yesterday I Sent to the Post office a letter to you and last night I received your kind favour of the 10th.

The question before the human race is, Whether the God of nature Shall govern the World by his own laws, or Whether Priests and Kings Shall rule it by fictitious Miracles.? Or, in other Words, whether Authority is originally in the People? or whether it has descended for 1800 Years in a Succession of Popes and Bishops, or brought down from Heaven by the holy Ghost in the form of a Dove, in a Phyal of holy Oil?

Who shall take the side of God and Nature? Brackmans,? Mandarins? Druids? Or Tecumseh and his Brother the Prophet? or Shall We become Disciples of the Phylosophers? And who are the Phylosophers? Frederick? Voltaire? Rousseau? Buffon? Diderot? or Condorcet? These Phylosophers have Shewn them Selves as incapable of governing man kind, as the Bourbons1 or the Guelphs.

Condorcet has let the Cat out of the Bag. He has made precious confessions. I regret that I have only an English Translation of his “Outlines of an historical View of the progress of the human Mind.” But in pages 247. 248 and 249 you will find it frankly acknowledged that the Phylosophers of the 18th Century, adopted all the Maxims and practiced all the Arts of the Pharisees, the ancient Priests of all Countries, the Jesuits, the Machiavillians &c &c to overthrow the Institutions that Such Arts had established. This new Phylosophy, was by his own Account, as insideous, fraudulent hypocritical and cruel, as the old Policy of Priests, Nobles and Kings. When and where were ever found or will be found, Sincerity, Honesty or Veracity in any Sect or Party in Religion Government or Phylosophy? Johnson and Burke were more of Catholicks than Protestants at Heart and Gibbon became an Advocate for the Inquisition. There is no Act of Uniformity in the Church or State phylosophick. As many Sects and Systems among them as among Quakers2 and Baptists.

Bona. will not revive Inquisitions Jesuits or Slave Trade for which hebetudes, Bourbons have been driven again into Exile.

We Shall get along, with or without War.

I have at last procured the Marquis D’Argens’s Ocellus Timæus and Julian. Three Such Volumes I never read. They are a most perfect exemplification of Condorcetts precious Confessions. It is astonishing they have not made more Noise in the World.

Our Athanasians have printed in a Pamphlet in Boston Your Letters and Priestleys from Belshams Lindsey. It will do you no harm. Our Correspondence3 Shall not again be So long interrupted. Affectionately

John Adams

[In Abigail Adams’s hand:]

Mrs Adams thanks mr Jefferson for his friendly remembrance of her, and reciprocates to him a thousand good wishes.4

[In John Adams’s hand:]

P.S. Tickner and Gray were highly delighted with their Visit; charmed with the whole Family.

Have you read Carnot? Is it not afflicting to See a Man of Such large Views So many noble Sentiments and Such exalted integrity, groping in the dark for a Remedy? a ballance or a mediator5 between Independence and Despotism? How Shall his “Love of Country,” his “Honor” and his “national Spirit” be produced.

I cannot write a hundreth part of what I wish to Say to you

J. A.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 30 June 1815 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC: TJ Papers, ser. 10); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Patrick Gibson, 28 July 1815, on verso; addressed in an unidentified hand: “Thomas Jefferson late President of the United States Monticello”; franked; postmarked Quincy, 21 June. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Adams’s most recent letter to TJ was dated 19 June 1815, not the day before yesterday. The holy ghost “descended in a bodily shape like a dove” in the Bible (Luke 3.22). brackmans: “brahmans.”

Adams’s english translation of Condorcet was Outlines of An Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (London, 1795).. He had procured three volumes translated by Jean Baptiste de Boyer, marquis d’Argens: Ocellus Lucanus en Grec et en François (Utrecht, 1762); Timée de Locres en Grec et en François (Berlin, 1763); and Defense du Paganisme par L’Empereur Julien, en Grec et en François (Berlin, 1769). Adams’s copies of these works are at MBPLi (Zoltán Haraszti, “John Adams Flays a Philosophe: Annotations on Condorcet’s Progress of the Human Mind,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892–  description ends , 3d ser., 7 [1950]: 230; Constance B. Schulz, “John Adams on ‘The Best of All Worlds,’” Journal of the History of Ideas 44 [1983]: 561–77)

The pamphlet was Thomas Belsham, American Unitarianism or a Brief History of “The Progress and Present State of the Unitarian Churches in America” … Extracted from his “Memoirs of the Life of the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey,” printed in London, 1812 (Boston, 1815). Printed on pp. 46–8 are an extract from TJ’s letter to Joseph Priestley of 9 Apr. 1803 (DLC) and Priestley’s letter to Theophilus Lindsey of 23 Apr. 1803, in the latter of which Priestley wrote that TJ “is generally considered as an unbeliever: if so, however, he cannot be far from us . . . He now attends public worship very regularly, and his moral conduct was never impeached.”

1RC and FC: “Boubons.”

2RC: “Quakes.” FC: “Quakers.”

3RC: “Correspondenc.” FC: “Correspondence.”

4In FC, Abigail Adams’s postscript follows that of her husband.

5Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); sends greetings to TJ search
  • Adams, John; and Quakers search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on Condorcet search
  • Adams, John; on governmental systems search
  • Adams, John; on human progress search
  • Adams, John; on J. Priestley search
  • Adams, John; on L. Carnot search
  • Adams, John; on Napoleon search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; on the divine right of kings search
  • Adams, John; on the philosophes search
  • American Unitarianism or a Brief History of “The Progress and Present State of the Unitarian Churches in America” … Extracted from his “Memoirs of the Life of the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey,” printed in London, 1812 (T. Belsham) search
  • Belsham, Thomas; American Unitarianism search
  • Bible; Luke referenced search
  • Boyer, Jean Baptiste de, marquis d’Argens; translates Defense du Paganisme par L’Empereur Julien, en Grec et en François search
  • Boyer, Jean Baptiste de, marquis d’Argens; translates Ocellus Lucanus en Grec et en François search
  • Boyer, Jean Baptiste de, marquis d’Argens; translates Timée de Locres en Grec et en François (Timaeus of Locri) search
  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de; J. Adams on search
  • Burke, Edmund; criticized search
  • Carnot, Lazare; J. Adams on search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; J. Adams on search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; Outlines of An Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind search
  • Defense du Paganisme par L’Empereur Julien, en Grec et en François (J. B. Boyer) search
  • Diderot, Denis; J. Adams on search
  • France; Bourbon dynasty restored search
  • Frederick II (“the Great”), king of Prussia; mentioned search
  • Gibbon, Edward; J. Adams on search
  • Gray, Francis Calley; visits Monticello search
  • Hartley, David (ca.1705–57); J. Adams on search
  • Indians, American; Shawnee search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; publication of papers search
  • Johnson, Samuel; criticized search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; correspondence with J. Priestley search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Gray, Francis C. search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Ticknor, George search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; J. Adams on search
  • Ocellus Lucanus en Grec et en François (J. B. Boyer) search
  • Outlines of An Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (Condorcet) search
  • philosophy; of the philosophes search
  • Priestley, Joseph; correspondence with T. Lindsey search
  • Priestley, Joseph; J. Adams on search
  • Quakers; and J. Adams search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • religion; Quakers search
  • Rousseau, Jean Jacques; J. Adams on search
  • Shawnee Indians search
  • Tecumseh (Shawnee chief); leadership of search
  • Tenskwatawa (“the Prophet”; Shawnee leader); mentioned search
  • Ticknor, George; visits Monticello search
  • Timaeus (character in dialogue by Plato) search
  • Timée de Locres en Grec et en François (Timaeus; trans. J. B. Boyer) search
  • Voltaire (François Marie Arouet); criticized search